January 12th marked the second anniversary from the official launch of Merill Eco Tours, the first company in the Maltese Islands fully focused on a range of eco and agri tourism services. The venture, spearheaded by agri-environment specialist Jeanette Borg, started off with a modest brochure featuring the rural villages of Dingli and Mellieha. Today, the original concept of eco tours has been encompassed within the Merill Rural Network; an exclusive web of farming families and artisans across the Maltese Islands who strive to diversify their agricultural and artisanal products to provide genuine experiences to locals and tourists.
While the services offered have evolved along these past months, the principles have remained rigidly the same. Merill conducts experiences for small groups so as to respect the sensitive areas visited, and strives to leave a financial benefit wherever they operate. Ms. Borg explains that “whereas previously, agricultural land was merely appreciated for its produce, Merill is committed to provide a tangible economic income to specific rural areas and their owners. If we just stop at sightseeing, the real stewards of our few remaining green-areas will not benefit anything at all. Even worse, if we choose to conduct walking tours without involving directly the rural community, we would be disrupting rather than helping these areas.” These notions have been clearly bred into the vision and mission of the company throughout these two years, as may be witnessed by the number of high profile clients who have entrusted Merill with their business. “We never planned to be at the forefront of this business by cutting corners. In order to place a convincing service within the spotlights of such a cutthroat and demanding industry, one needs to be genuine down to the core” Ms. Borg continues. “Of course, aging ideas, resistance to change, unfair competition and highly bureaucratic institutions make our work that bit more challenging, but we are ever-more motivated to continue pushing through”.
After establishing itself in the island of Malta, the Merill Rural Network is now set to expand towards Gozo. Bid by many as a natural destination when it comes to ‘Eco’, Gozo had to wait its turn since a lot of ground work needed to be carried out first in the island of Malta. Marking this second anniversary, Merill Eco Tours is proud to come into agreement with the owners of Ta’ Mena Estate in Marsalforn, Gozo. The decade-long investment, is a clear sign of belief by entrepreneur Mr. Joseph Spiteri and his family, that the strengths of two important industries, agriculture and tourism, are yet to be properly harnessed and moulded into the country’s future economic driving force. This, together with the excellent reputation Ta’ Mena already enjoys, convinced Merill to work in tandem with the enterprise and build upon its successes, while it promises to bring on a fresh outlook when it comes to eco and agri experiences.
Ta’ Mena Estate has undergone considerable investment to restore the landscape of the area and create an ideal venue for agri experiences. Local products are produced at the estate in Marsalforn while the processing is carried out in the establishment in Xewkija. Mr. Spiteri guarantees the authenticity of the products by applying traditional practices and by producing limited quantities of a range of culinary delights. “Our passion for Gozo has driven us to invest and believe in what we do.” says Mr. Spiteri. “It is not only the sun and sea that make Gozo special but also the tranquility, scenic beauty of the agricultural landscape and its delicious produce, and we must devote our energies so that these priceless attributes are conserved in the best ways possible".
Ms. Borg adds that "it is only through the adoption of sustainable measures that an ecotourism enterprise can move forward". She also highlighted that the farmers and artisans within the Merill Rural Network are a precious resource and collaboration with them has been an opportunity to cater for all the services that the enterprise provides. The latest synergy with Gozo farmers will bring about a better and more consolidated approach towards rural tourism services. Several issues such as rural policy and planning, EU funding, marketing the rural aspects of the Maltese Islands, setting standards and tackling unfair competition are being discussed with local authorities to improve upon the already existing efforts carried out by the authorities themselves and the concerned enterprises.